There she sat in the ballroom, decked in leis, surrounded by her family, and looking like the biblical Queen of Sheba in all her splendor. Meanwhile camera bulbs flashed as though it was the Fourth of July fireworks or the celebration of King Kamehameha Day. Indeed Hawaii had celebrated the great Kamehameha that very day with a floral parade through the streets of Honolulu. So it was indeed appropriate that we gather in the Mauna Kea ballroom of the Hawaii Prince Hotel Waikiki to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Damien Tours and to honor Gloria Marks and her husband of fond memory, Richard Marks, the co-founders of Damien Tours.
Now it has been said that “behind every good man there is a good woman……..pushing.” I will not dare to further elaborate on this saying but I do have confidence that Sheriff Richard Marks knew that Gloria had his back, to use a modern phrase, in all his endeavors. So fifty years ago Gloria and Richard started Damien Tours from humble beginnings. It was a struggle at first but this dynamic duo progressed from trucks to cars to vans to buses, bringing the story of Kalawao and Kalaupapa to the many pilgrims who came from all over the world. In the process they told the world about the great and heroic men and women such as St. Damien and St. Marianne and others who gave their lives to caring for the victims of Hansen’s Disease.
We had partaken of a sumptuous meal capped off by cheese cake dessert and now it was time for the roasting and toasting of Gloria. We had some emotion filled words of praise from Pamela Young of KITV. Dr. Kalani Brady recalled how he had driven the bus one day for Gloria and in the middle of the tour she had told him, “Sing! Sing!” Now know that Dr. Kalani is the second coming of Mario Lanza. So he sang for her. Pat Boland, in his usual humorous tone, shared with us his long association with Damien Tours as a tour guide. Pat is tops at his trade. Then came the lady herself, Gloria Marks, co -founder of Damien Tours. Let me say that she did not disappoint us with her humor and wit.
It was now the hour to close out this evening of celebration and so we gave thanks to God for fifty years of Damien Tours. We continue to give thanks to God for Gloria and for her untiring efforts to share with the world at large the story of Kalawao and Kalaupapa. Gloria in excelsis. Aloha.
Fr. Pat Killilea ss.cc.
St. Francis Church, Kalaupapa.